Web site navigation : home > Antarctica > Exploration of Antarctica > Race to the South Pole

Search this website ::

Exploration of Antarctica

Race to the South Pole

In 1908 British explorer Ernest Shackleton, who had accompanied Scott on his earlier expedition, led a British expedition expressly to reach the South Pole. Pioneering a route from McMurdo Sound across the Ross Ice Shelf, and through the Transantarctic Mountains by way of the Beardmore Glacier, he and three colleagues reached the polar plateau. Lack of food forced the party to turn back within 179 km (111 mi) of the pole. In addition to attaining a new farthest-south point, they returned from the mountains with samples of coal. Due to the type of vegetation necessary for the formation of coal, this finding confirmed that Antarctica had once been semitropical. Other members of the same expedition, under William Edgeworth David, reached the south magnetic pole in 1909.

In 1910 Scott returned to McMurdo Sound, again to seek the pole. In October 1911 he and four companions left their base on Ross Island and began traveling along Shackleton's route, hauling their supplies on sleds. Scott’s party reached the pole on January 17, 1912, only to find that Roald Amundsen, a Norwegian explorer with experience on both Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, had reached the pole almost five weeks earlier. Scott and his party died on the return journey. Two of the men were injured along the route, and the rest died from starvation and exposure at a camp just short of their supply station.

Amundsen originally sought the North Pole, but when that was conquered in 1909 he set his sights on the South Pole. He and his companions set out from the Bay of Whales on the Ross Ice Shelf near Roosevelt Island just four days before Scott’s team began their journey. Outmatching Scott's group in experience and technique and using efficient dog teams, Amundsen’s group climbed a steeper, shorter glacier (now Amundsen Glacier) to the plateau. They arrived at the pole on December 14, 1911, and arrived safely back at their base the following month.

With the pole conquered, explorers began to take on new challenges. In 1912 Australian scientist Douglas Mawson led the Australian Antarctic Expedition to explore the coast of East Antarctica directly south of Australia. An overland party explored the area now known as George V Land, although two of Mawson’s companions died and Mawson returned to his base barely alive. Shackleton returned in 1915, intending to cross the continent from the Weddell Sea to the Ross Sea by way of the pole. But his ship never reached the continent; it became trapped by the ice and sank ten months later. Shackleton reached South Georgia in a lifeboat, and returned to rescue his stranded men three months later.

Search this website ::